Do you need a dedicated GPS or a bike computer? If you want the most reliable speed and cadence records, you would definitely want a bike computer. GPS units can be inconsistent, expensive and battery-intensive. The best bike computer will record every second of your adventures, no matter where they take you.
Some riders prefer a simple bike computer for ease of use. Others want the deluxe option with heart rate, cadence and power measurements. Whichever level of computer you choose, it’s great to have a dedicated unit that lives on the bike.
Bike computers can also be an inexpensive complement to a smartphone GPS log. Cheaper, more durable and safer in rain, they’re the perfect handlebar display unit. Here at The Adventure Junkies, we want to steer our readers to the best gear for their rides. We’ve prepared this guide to help you get started on your own adventure.
For more of our top mountain biking gear recommendations, check out the Best Mountain Bike Lights.
Quick Answer - The Best Bike Computers
- CatEye Padrone
- CatEye Strada
- CatEye Padrone Smart+
- Planet Bike 8.0 Protege
- CatEye – Velo 9
- Giant Neos Ant+
- Suaoki Wireless
Comparison Table - Best Bike Computer
|CatEye Padrone Smart+||Yes||30g||$$$$$||3.4|
|Planet Bike 8.0 Protege||No||91g||$$||4.2|
|CatEye – Velo 9||No||113g||$$||4.3|
|Giant Neos Ant+||Yes||Unknown||$$$$||5.0|
|Suaoki Wireless||Unit Only||68g||$$||3.2|
Reviews - The Best Computers for Mountain Bikes
BEST FOR: SIMPLE, STRESS-FREE SPEED AND DISTANCE RECORDING WITH A GIANT SCREEN
PROS: Auto-pause, huge display, reliable, color variety
CONS: No data transfer
BEST FOR: RELIABLE AND HIGHLY ACCURATE SPEED AND TIME LOGGING
PROS: Auto-pause, large display, reliable, price
CONS: Weight, no data transfer
CatEye Padrone Smart+
BEST FOR: DATA JUNKIES WHO WANT TO LINK THEIR GPS SMARTPHONE, HEART RATE MONITOR, AND CADENCE AND SPEED SENSORS
PROS: Battery life, smartphone link, cadence and heart rate monitor, web upload
Planet Bike 8.0 Protege
BEST FOR: MULTI-FUNCTION DISPLAY ON A LONG-LIVED WIRED DEVICE
PROS: Price, long lasting battery, no signal interference, customizable display
CONS: Wires require more initial setup, no data transfer
CatEye – Velo 9
BEST FOR: RELIABLE AND SIMPLE FUNCTIONALITY IN A WIRED COMPUTER WITH MAXIMUM BATTERY LIFE
PROS: Reliability, no signal interference, price, auto-stop, 3 year battery
CONS: Wires require more initial setup, no data transfer
Giant Neos Ant+
BEST FOR: CYCLISTS WHO WANT TO RECORD SPEED, CADENCE, AND HEART RATE ALL ON THE SAME DEVICE
PROS: ANT+ connection to additional sensors, backlit, lots of functions, data transfer
CONS: Price, cadence meter, heart rate monitor not included
BEST FOR: STRONG BACKLIGHT AND CADENCE SENSOR FOR RIDERS WHO DON’T MIND A WIRE BETWEEN THE CADENCE AND SPEED SENSOR
PROS: Cadence sensor included, backlight, battery life, price
CONS: Cadence and speed sensor are wired to each other, no data transfer
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST BIKE COMPUTERS
SPEED SENSOR CONNECTIONS
Bike computers are also called speedometers. The primary reason to own one is to know your speed, which is why every computer measures speed and time ridden.
They do this by counting the number of times a magnet, usually on the rear wheel, passes a sensor on the fork or triangle. If you aren’t sure which part is which, see our previous article on mountain bike parts.
The most basic sensors are connected by a thin cable. They can be harder to install, but won’t require a battery for the sensor.
Once installed, they should be fine until you decide to buy a new one. They aren’t as popular today with an industry moving to internal cables and wireless components, but are great for riders who want to avoid interference or battery issues.
If installation gets tough, see bike mechanic legend Sheldon Brown’s 17 tips on installing computers.
Wireless sensors are the most common. They tend to work well but can run into interference issues with other electronic signals. Some of the wireless units can also work with other types of sensors, such as heart rate monitors.
Cadence is a measure of how fast your pedals turn, an important consideration for racers and anyone looking to improve. A cadence sensor can be the difference between a bike ride and a training ride. If you’re thinking about starting a training program, see our guide on mountain bike training.
HEART RATE SENSOR
Heart-rate monitors add another measure of exertion, even more crucial than cadence for serious racers. Race training is done in different heart rate “zones,” or ranges. Knowing your heart rate is important for structured training programs, but not always helpful on a group ride.
If you want to learn about heart rate zoning, start with this guide from BikeRadar.
DATA TRANSFER AND CONNECTIONS
Most data transfer is fairly straightforward and low-tech: Write it down in a training log. The higher end bike computers are more like a Garmin GPS or smartphone, though, and will upload or transmit the data to your computer. This isn’t a must-have feature for most cyclists, but it’s important to consider if you want to keep a digital record.
At the highest end, bike computers can even sync with your phone, providing call details, GPS links, and more.
One of the most important features of any bike computer is the display. A good one is visible and easy to read at a glance; a great one is backlit and visible even in the dark. If you ride trails at night, dusk, or dawn, you’ll want a backlit computer.
DISPLAY OPTIONS AND INTERFACE
If you’ve already determined that you just want to know your speed, this will be an easy choice. Some units have as many as 15 functions, displaying average speed, top speed, time, calories burned or even an ecological metric like how much CO2 you aren’t emitting in a car.